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Sun says, 'No THX' to HTX

'Our slots will stay free'

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Sun Microsystems won't ship servers with support for technology that gives Opteron-based systems a performance advantage over Xeon-based rivals. In so doing, Sun goes against a path being carved out by smaller server makers and competing Tier I vendors such as HP and IBM.

Sun's upcoming line of Opteron servers will not have HTX slots. Such technology allows add-on cards to plug directly into memory and processors via AMD's Hypertransport instead of going through another chip crossing as is required on Xeon-based systems. Overall, this means that Opteron servers can deliver higher bandwidth and lower latency than competing gear.

"We looked really hard and long at (HTX)," said Andy Bechtolsheim, Sun's Opteron server boss, during a meeting on Friday with reporters. "We didn't think giving up resources for this slot was a good choice."

At the moment, Supermicro and IWill sell systems with the HTX slots and pitch this as a performance advantage. Moving forward, companies such as IBM and HP are expected to outfit their Opteron gear with HTX slots. So will smaller motherboard suppliers such as Tyan and Newisys.

"Everyone is doing this with their Opteron boards," said Art Goldberg, chief operating officer at PathScale - a company that makes Infiniband adapters that plug into the HTX slot. "The Tier 1s understand the value of the technology."

Goldberg went on to say that "for reasons we can't understand, Andy (Bechtolsheim) has been reluctant" to go the HTX route.

Bechtolsheim described PathScale's product as the "one chip on the market today" that is "of interest for this interface." Without a larger, "more reasonable market" around HTX-ready products, Sun is not willing to give up a slot on its Opteron systems to support HTX, he said.

Bechtolsheim's praise for PathScale's product is pretty telling. Sun is quite clearly eyeing the Infiniband market with future x86 systems. PathScale's Goldberg said that blade server makers have shown particular interest in the company's adapters.

Sun may not lose out too much by passing on HTX. PathScale is expected to deliver an Infiniband adapter that goes into the PCI-Express slots of server motherboards. If such a product comes close to matching the performance of the HTX adapter, then Sun will likely be able to serve most of its customers well. Only the very demanding types in the high performance computing market who want the best possible performance might be upset with Sun's decision. ®

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